Judith A. McHale
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
DuPont Hotel
Washington, DC
October 25, 2010

(As Delivered)

On behalf of the Department of State, I am very pleased to officially welcome you to the United States as participants in the fifth Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists. We are honored and excited to have you here – 150 talented journalists representing the full spectrum of news media around the world.

As journalists, I know you like to ask questions and get answers. I therefore wanted to spend the next few minutes answering a few questions that may be on your mind, including:

  • Why does the United States Government fund and run the Murrow Program for foreign journalists?
  • Why did we select you and what do we expect from you in the coming weeks? And,
  • Why is this program named after Edward Murrow?

Let me start with the last question. Edward R. Murrow was one of the great figures in the history of American journalism. He pioneered broadcast journalism, from his radio reports on London rooftops during World War II to his courageous television reporting on some of our most difficult political issues in the 1950s. He demonstrated that the “new media” of his time could be used to provide serious, accurate, and timely news coverage to the American people.

Murrow also believed in the importance of international engagement and understanding, from his pre-journalism years as Assistant Director for the Institute of International Education to his leadership of American public diplomacy as Director of the United States Information Agency under President John F. Kennedy. I hope you will use some of your time in the United States to learn more about this outstanding individual and his impact on American journalism.

Next question: Why do we have this program? The answer is both simple and basic – the Department of State started the Murrow exchange program five years ago because we believe that a free press and the practice of journalism are critical elements for any successful society. And these elements cannot exist without you, the individual journalists who have the skills, resources, and – most of all – the commitment to provide your audience with the news they deserve and require.

Secretary of State Clinton clearly stated our position earlier this year, saying, “A free press is essential to an empowered citizenry, government accountability and responsible economic development. Wherever independent media are under threat, accountable governance and human freedom are undermined.”

Your work is challenging. It is exciting. And it is of critical importance to your audience, communities, and countries. You empower people through the information you provide and the objectivity you bring to each assignment, from live reporting on crises and conflicts to cultural, social, and human interest reporting. You have a duty to inform – but you also have the power to inspire.

As some of you may I know, I came from the world of media. I had the great privilege of helping to build and lead Discovery Communications. Our company was dedicated to providing people around the world with information to help them understand the world around them. I used to say that those of us in the media world have an “awesome” responsibility, in the truest sense of that word. As people look to us to provide them with accurate and unbiased information, we must do everything in our power to ensure that we live up to their expectations since what we write, say and do will impact the decisions they make about their lives, the lives of their families, their communities and their countries.

Edward R. Murrow had an unwavering belief in a free press. He believed in honest and truthful reporting. He believed that words matter, and he was prepared to take a stand as long as it was based on solid reporting. As a result, he had a profound impact on his profession, on his country, and on the world.

Murrow once summed up his philosophy this way: “To be persuasive, we must be believable; to be believable, we must be credible; to be credible, we must be truthful.”

This is no simple task to accomplish. Many of you face serious threats as journalists in your countries. Over 700 journalists have been killed since World Press Freedom Day was established in 1948. Only a third of those deaths were linked to the dangers of covering war; the majority of victims were local reporters covering topics such as crime, corruption, and national security in their home countries. One of them was a member of my own family. Many years ago, my uncle, who was bureau chief for TIME magazine in Rome, was killed while he was pursuing a story about political corruption.

Today, hundreds of journalists around the world face intimidation, censorship, and arbitrary arrest – when they are guilty of nothing more than a passion for truth and a tenacious belief that a free society depends on an informed citizenry.

On May 17th of this year, President Obama signed into law the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act, a bill that reinforces the United States’ commitment to ensure freedom of the press around the world. The legislation requires the State Department to expand its scrutiny of news media restrictions and intimidations as part of its annual review of human rights in each country.

As Secretary Clinton stated on World Press Freedom Day this year, “The United States is committed to working in partnership with members of the media, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and other concerned governments to defend freedom of expression and the brave journalists who are persecuted for exercising it on the challenging new terrain of the 21st century."

Finally, why did we invite you to participate in the Murrow Program? And what do we hope to achieve through it?

Our embassies and consulates nominated you for this program because you are accomplished journalists. You are doing important work today, and we believe you will play leadership roles in the years to come.

We hope this program will strengthen your capabilities, through a range of activities involving American professional counterparts and ten of our leading academic journalism programs. Use these opportunities to ask questions, compare experiences, and confront problems with them, and with each other. This is an exchange not just between the United States and you, but between you and every single country represented here today.

Beyond your profession, I hope that you use the Murrow Program as a chance to improve your understanding of the United States – our nation, our society, and our culture. Your program will take you out of Washington, to see the breadth of America’s diversity as you visit our cities and towns. You will even visit parts of this country that many Americans have not seen. Please don’t be shy – ask all the questions you can think of, to get honest opinions from a wide range of individual Americans.

You will be here at a particularly important time, as we hold our mid-term elections next week. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has said that “democracy can be maddening, messy, and muddled.” In the coming days, you will witness the kaleidoscope of American democracy in action, from the final pre-election activities to the excitement of election day, to the acceptance of the decisions made by our citizens through the votes they cast. You will also gain a deeper understanding of democracy in the United States through professional discussions with journalists covering the elections, and in your personal conversations with individual Americans.

But this is not a one-way program. While you learn about our country, I also ask that you tell Americans about your own nation, community, family, and media organization. You will find, as you travel throughout the United States on your program, that the people at the universities you are visiting, the journalists you meet along the way, and the Americans who invite you into their homes want to learn from you as well.

Finally, I hope that you will sustain and expand the professional and personal networks you will create during your stay here, long after you finish this program. We hope that you will become active members of our alumni community, and that you will stay connected to us and to each other in the years ahead.

A visitor who participated in the Murrow program several years ago recently returned to the United States and spoke about that experience. She said, “I came a stranger, I left a friend.” I hope all of you will feel that way three weeks from today. Thank you very much for accepting our invitation to participate in this program and I especially hope you enjoy your time in the United States.